Emperor Xian of Han

Emperor Xian of Han

Chinese Emperor

birth = 181
death = 234
family_name = Liu (劉; liú)
clan_name =
given_name = Xie (協, xíe)
begin_reign = 189
end_reign = 220
dynasty = Han Dynasty
era_name =
begin_era =
end_era =
temple_name =
posthumous_name_short = Xian (獻, xìan) "wise"
posthumous_name_full = Xiaoxian (孝獻, xiào xiàn) literary meaning: "filial and wise"
notes =

Emperor Xian of Han (Traditional 漢獻帝, Simplified 汉献帝, Pinyin "Hàn Xiàn dì", Wade-Giles "Han Hsien-ti"; 181-234, reigned 189-220) was the last emperor of the Chinese Han Dynasty. He was forced to abdicate in favor of Cao Pi and was given the title of Duke of Shanyang ("Shanyang gong").

Emperor Xian was the son of Emperor Ling and was the brother of Emperor Liu Bian (who later became known as Prince of Hongnong). He was placed on the throne in 189 after Dong Zhuo removed his brother from the throne. This act was seen as a sign to all the other lords that Dǒng was in full control of the empire. However, after Dong Zhuo was assassinated in 192, Emperor Xian became first a puppet and then was stranded in Luoyang with the warlords formally acknowledging him but giving him no aid. Eventually, Emperor Xian came under the control of Cao Cao in 196, and Cao used Emperor Xiàn as a titular ruler effectively, issuing edicts beneficial to him in Emperor Xian's name, greatly helping him in his quest to reunify the empire, which appeared inevitable until Cao's defeat by Sun Quan at the Battle of Red Cliffs, leading to Sun and Liu Bei's entrenchment in their territories. In 220, the Han dynasty was finally overthrown by Cao Cao's son Cao Pi, ending more than 400 years of Han dynastic rule and ushering in the era of the Three Kingdoms.

Although Emperor Xian was demoted to a rank of nobility (Duke of Shanyang), he lived in comfort and enjoyed preferential treatments. Emperor Xian died in 234, 14 years after the fall of his dynasty. He was 53.

Family background

The future Emperor Xian was born in 181, to Emperor Ling and his concubine Consort Wang. During her pregnancy, Consort Wang, fearful of Emperor Ling's powerful empress Empress He, had taken drugs that were intended to induce an abortion, but was not successful in her attempt. Soon after she gave birth to Prince Xie, the jealous Empress He poisoned her by putting poison in her rice porridge. Emperor Ling was enraged and wanted to depose her, but the eunuchs pleaded on her behalf, and she was not deposed. Prince Xie was raised personally by Emperor Ling's mother Empress Dowager Dong and known by the circumspect title "Marquess Dong." (This is due to superstition; Emperor Ling had lost a number of sons previously, and therefore both Prince Xie and his older brother Liu Bian were known by such titles; Prince Bian, having been raised by the magician Shi Zimiao (史子眇), was known as "Marquess Shi.") Prince Bian was born of the empress and was older, but Emperor Ling viewed his behavior as being insufficiently solemn and therefore considered creating Prince Xie crown prince, but hesitated and could not decide.

When Emperor Ling died in 189, a powerful eunuch that he trusted, Jian Shuo, wanted to first kill Empress He's brother He Jin and then make Prince Xie emperor, and therefore set up a trap at a meeting he was to have with He. He found out, and preemptorily declared Prince Bian emperor. Later that year, the young emperor created Prince Xie the Prince of Bohai, and later changed his title to the Prince of Chenliu.Emperor Xian was the 15th generation of Liu Bang, founder of the Han Dynasty.

"See" -- "Family tree of the Han Dynasty"

Ascension to the throne and collapse of the Han regime

:"For more details about the collapse of the Han regime -- which happened largely during Emperor Xian's reign but for which he had little, if any, responsibility -- see End of Han Dynasty."

Rise of Dong Zhuo

After Prince Bian became emperor, He Jin became the most powerful official at court, and he and his advisor Yuan Shao quickly entered into a conspiracy to exterminate the powerful eunuchs. They were, however, rebuffed by Empress Dowager He, and they hatched the plan to secretly order a number of generals to advance on the capital Luoyang to force Empress Dowager He to agree to their demands. One of these generals was the generally disobedient Dong Zhuo, who saw this as an opportunity to control the central government.

He Jin's plan was discovered by the eunuchs, who lay a trap for him and killed him. Yuan then led his forces into the palace and killed the majority of the eunuchs. The remaining eunuchs initially took the young emperor and Prince Xie hostage, but eventually were forced to commit suicide when the battle turned against them. When Dong then arrived on scene, he, impressed with his own power and unimpressed with the nervous young emperor, forced the young emperor to yield the throne to Prince Xie (partly because he was raised by Empress Dowager Dong who, while no relation to Dong Zhuo, was therefore respected by Dong Zhuo), who then ascended the throne as Emperor Xian. Dong Zhuo then murdered Empress Dowager He and the young former emperor, and became firmly in control of the political scene.

Forced relocation west and the death of Dong Zhuo

In the spring of 190, a number of local officials, loosely forming a coalition led by Yuan Shao, quickly rose up against Dong. Even though they still feared Dong's military power and did not directly advance on Luoyang, Dong was also fearful of their collective strength, and therefore determined to move the capital west -- to the old Western Han capital Chang'an, closer to his power base in Liang Province (涼州, modern Gansu). On April 9 190, he forced Emperor Xian to relocate to Chang'an and set fire to Luoyang, leaving it largely in ruins.

After the revolting coalition collapsed, a number of officials, led by Wang Yun and Dong's adopted son Lü Bu, assassinated Dong in May 22 192. For a while, it appeared that the Han regime might return to normal, as Wang quickly established relatively friendly relations with the local officials resisting Dong but by this time acting more as local warlords. However, due to Wang's failure to pacify Dong's former subordinates, they rose in revolt and killed Wang. Any possibility of return to normality was shattered.

Return to Luoyang's ruins

Dong's former subordinates, led by Li Jue and Guo Si, held Emperor Xian and the imperial officials. However, Li and Guo did not have serious ambitions, and their incompetence in governance furthered the breakdown of the empire into warlord realms. In 195, Li and Guo had a major fallout, and Li took Emperor Xian hostage while Guo took the imperial officials hostage as they battled. Later in the year, after peace talks between Li and Guo, they agreed to allow Emperor Xian to return to Luoyang -- but as soon as Emperor Xian departed Chang'an, they regretted this and chased him with their troops. While they were never able to capture him, Emperor Xian's court was rendered poor and unable to fend for itself, and once it returned to Luoyang, it lacked even the basic essentials of life. Many imperial officials starved to death. At this time, Yuan Shao's strategist Ju Shou suggested that he welcome Emperor Xian to his province so that he could effectively be in control of the imperial government, but the other strategists Guo Tu and Chunyu Qiong opposed -- under the faulty logic that if he did, he would have to yield to Emperor Xian on key decisions. Yuan listened to Guo and Chunyu and never again considered welcoming Emperor Xian. The implementation of Ju's strategy would have to wait for a man more capable than Yuan.

Tight control by Cao Cao

What Yuan Shao would not do, Cao Cao did. Cao was at this time a relatively minor warlord, as the governor of the small Yan Province (兗州, modern western Shandong and eastern Henan), with his headquarters at Xu (in modern Xuchang, Henan). He saw the strategical advantage in having the emperor under his control and protection, and in 196 he marched west to Luoyang and, after securing an agreement with Emperor Xian's generals Dong Cheng and Yang Feng, convincing them of his loyalty, he entered Luoyang and technically shared power with Dong and Yang, but was in fact in command. Unlike the situation with Dong Zhuo, though, Cao knew how to assuage the other generals and nobles, and while he gave them little power, he made sure that they remained honoured, so minimal opposition against him developed at the imperial court. He then moved the capital to Xu to affirm his control over the imperial government, and while Yang opposed him, he defeated Yang and was able to move the capital.

Cao then began to issue imperial edicts in Emperor Xian's name -- including a harshly-worded edict condemning Yuan Shao for taking over nearby provinces -- even though it still bestowed Yuan with the highly honorific post of commander of the armed forces as well as a march. Yuan and the other warlords finally saw Cao's advantage of having control of the emperor, but it was too late. Cao would not, for the rest of his life, let Emperor Xiàn out of his grip. Cao and Emperor Xian had a superficially cordial relationship, but this did not prevent two major confrontations involving Cao and other figures of the imperial court.

In or before 199, as Cao was facing a major military confrontation against Yuan, Dong Cheng claimed to have received a secret edict issued by Emperor Xian (hidden in a belt), and he entered into a conspiracy with Liu Bei, Zhong Ji (种輯), and Wang Fu (王服) to assassinate Cao. Late in 199, Liu started a rebellion and waited for Dong to act in the capital, but in 200, Dong's conspiracy was discovered, and he, along with Zhong and Wang, were killed. Liu was later defeated by Cao and forced to flee to Yuan's camp. Dong's daughter, an imperial consort, was pregnant, and Emperor Xian personally tried to intercede for her, but Cao had her executed anyway. This would precipitate the next major incident.

Emperor Xian's wife, Empress Fu Shou, angry and fearful about how Consort Dong died, wrote her father Fu Wan (伏完) a letter accusing Cao of cruelty, and implicitly asking Fu to start a new conspiracy against Cao. Fu Wan was fearful of Cao and never acted on the letter, in 214, her letter was discovered. Cao was extremely angry and forced Emperor Xiàn to have Empress Fu deposed. Emperor Xiàn was hesitant, and Cao sent his forces into the palace to force the issue. Empress Fu hid inside the walls, but was finally discovered and dragged out. As she was led away, she cried out to Emperor Xian for him to save her life, but his only response was that he could not even know what would happen to him. She was killed, along with her two sons and family. Emperor Xian was not, but his status as a puppet was by now fully exposed. Cao soon forced Emperor Xian to create his daughter Cao Jie, then an imperial consort, empress.

Abdication and death

In March 15 220, Cao Cao died. Cao Cao's heir, Cao Pi, soon forced Emperor Xian to abdicate the throne in favor of himself, ending the Han Dynasty. Cao Pi established a new dynasty known as Cao Wei (sometimes known inaccurately as the Kingdom of Wei), and he named Emperor Xian the Duke of Shanyang. The former emperor died in 234 and was buried with honors due an emperor, using Han ceremonies, and then-emperor of Wei Cao Rui was one of the mourners. His grandson Liu Kang (劉康) inherited his dukedom, which lasted for 81 more years and two more dukes until the line was exterminated by invading barbarians during the Jin Dynasty.

Era names

*"Yonghan" (永漢 py. yŏng hàn) 189
*"Chuping" (初平 py. chū píng) 190-193
*"Xingping" (興平 py. xīng píng) 194-195
*"Jianan" (建安 py. jìan ān) 196-220
*"Yankang" (延康 py. yán kāng) 220

Personal information

* Father
** Emperor Ling of Han
* Mother
** Consort Wang
* Wives
** Empress Fu Shou (created 195, d. 214)
** Empress Cao Jie (created 214, d. 237), daughter of Cao Cao
* Major Concubines
** Consort Dong (executed 200), daughter of Dong Cheng
** Consort Cao Xian (曹憲), daughter of Cao Cao and older sister of Empress Cao
** Consort Cao Hua (曹華), daughter of Cao Cao and younger sister of Empress Cao
* Children
** Liu Feng (劉馮), the Prince of Nanyang (created and d. 200)
** LIu Xi (劉熙), the Prince of Jiying (created 204)
** Liu Yi (劉懿), the Prince of Shanyang (created 204)
** Liu Miao (劉邈), the Prince of Jibei (created 204)
** Liu Dun (劉敦), the Prince of Donghai (created 204)
** two sons by Empress Fu, may be same as two of the above princes (killed by Cao Cao 214)
** two daughters who became Cao Pi's concubines

ee also

*Three Kingdoms
*Personages of the Three Kingdoms
*"Records of Three Kingdoms"
*"Romance of the Three Kingdoms"


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